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Fast, But Right

The typical scientific process of getting results, submitting a paper, and publishing in a peer-reviewed journal can be slow, but it has been sped up as researchers and others try to get a grasp on the COVID-19 pandemic. In an opinion piece appearing in Scientific American, Peter Gleick cautions that a balance between speed and accuracy needs to be struck.

He notes that a number of COVID-19-related papers have been posted to preprint servers and that journals have hastened the pace of their review and publication of pandemic-related work to try to meet the desire for more information about the disease and virus that causes it. But that pace has also led to high-profile retractions, including ones from the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, which he writes could erode public trust in science.

"We are understandably desperate to know how to fight this new, lethal enemy — but the scientific community must balance the pressure for quick answers with the safeguards put in place to try to ensure those answers are right," Gleick writes. He notes, however, that "waiting for perfect information to act would mean waiting forever" which also is not possible.